Christmas Day (Trading) Bill

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 16th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour 11:00 am, 16th July 2004

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Noble Lords may recall that I had the honour of promoting the Christmas Day (Trading) Bill in the 2001–02 Session. Your Lordships very kindly gave the Bill your full support at that time. It was efficiently dealt with in this House, but unfortunately it did not receive sufficient time to be debated in another place, and consequently fell.

I have the honour again to promote this Bill, and I hope that noble Lords will again give their support for this very important yet simple measure. The advantage I have this time is that the Bill has already been through another place, so its fate now lies fully in the hands of your Lordships.

The Bill has widespread support. It was sent to this House from another place unopposed. In a survey carried out by the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers—USDAW—96 per cent of shop workers said that they wanted legislation to stop shops opening on Christmas Day.

The Department of Trade and Industry conducted a consultation on the measures proposed by the Bill. It contacted all the United Kingdom's major retailers, asking for their views. Not one of the retailers that responded said that that they opposed legislation to stop large stores opening on Christmas day. The experience of USDAW members involved confirms that the shopping public support the Bill. When collecting signatures on a petition asking for this Bill to be passed, they found it difficult to find people who would not sign; there was overwhelming support for the petition.

The Manchester Evening News ran a telephone poll on this issue. Some 95 per cent of those who phoned in said they wanted large stores to stay closed on Christmas Day. Even the Government, who were neutral last time we debated the Bill, now support it.

The Bill will correct an anomaly in the Sunday Trading Act 1994 and will help protect Britain's 2.7 million shop workers from being pressured to work on Christmas Day. As a former general secretary of the shop workers union, USDAW, I have spent many years seeking to protect shop workers from extended shop opening hours. The anomaly in the 1994 Act is that it does not allow trading by large shops on Christmas Day when it falls on a Sunday but allows trading when Christmas Day falls on any other day of the week. That is not only illogical, but goes against the spirit of the 1994 Act. Protection for Christmas Day was inserted into the 1994 Act along with Easter Sunday because both are recognised as very important days in the Christian calendar. However, unlike Easter Sunday, Christmas Day can fall on any day of the week. In 1994, no one thought that Christmas Day trading would become commonplace. However, considerable changes have occurred in the past few years. That is why it is now necessary to correct the anomaly.

I do not believe that when this House passed the Sunday Trading Act, noble Lords thought of Christmas Day as a less significant event than any other Sunday or Easter Sunday, yet that is exactly the basis on which the current trading laws operate. That is why they need changing. They also need to take account of new developments. Shop workers have seen a continual drive towards longer trading hours over the past 20 years. The days of a five-day working week, with a half day on Wednesday and Saturday morning only, are now a distant memory. Since then, we have seen the introduction of all-day Saturday opening, Sunday trading, bank holiday shopping, late night or 24-hour supermarkets, and now even Christmas Day trading.

The Bill would go some way towards creating a level playing field in retailing. There is no doubt that the vast majority of retailers do not want to open on Christmas Day, but they would consider it if their competitors did. Such is the nature of harsh and sometimes cut-throat competition in retailing, especially among supermarkets. I do not think it fair that shop workers should suffer in what could become a phoney competition for the virtually non-existent custom of people who wish to shop on Christmas Day.

In USDAW's survey of shop workers, 94 per cent said that they felt that they would be forced to work on Christmas Day in the future if there were no legislation to stop stores from opening. I choose my words carefully because every store manager in the country would deny that they forced their employees to work on Christmas Day. However, there is no doubt that coercion takes place by many store managers who are under pressure themselves. The only way to prevent any form of coercion is to stop shops from opening on 25 December in the first place.

The Bill is not only for shop workers and their families, although, for me, that is of major importance. Christmas Day is a very special day for the vast majority of people—a day when we can all take a collective breather from the usual stresses and strains of modern life. There is no doubt that if the opening of large stores were to become widespread, it would fundamentally change the special nature of Christmas Day. It would lead to more non-retail workers having to come to work—street cleaners, traffic wardens, delivery drivers, public transport workers, the list goes on. Even emergency service workers would be affected. Hospitals, police and fire services try to run a skeleton staff over the Christmas period, but that would not be possible if large stores opened. That is not because shopping is particularly dangerous, but because it leads to more traffic on the roads, which leads to more accidents, which require more attention from the emergency services.

I am asking noble Lords to consider whether they want Christmas Day to become the same as any other day or whether they want its special nature to be preserved. This Bill will help to preserve the special nature of Christmas.

The Bill is indeed modest and applies to large stores only. It does not affect small shops under 280 square metres, which means that small shops could be staffed by their owners and could open as and when they liked. If shopkeepers choose to open their own shop and staff it themselves, that is for them. The fact is that larger stores over 280 square metres need to have more than one member of staff working. That is when we end up in a situation in which shop workers are required or pressurised to work on a day that they would much rather spend at home with their families. They should have the right to do just that.

This is a simple measure that would make a real difference for hundreds and thousands of shop workers. It is a Bill that addresses an anomaly in existing legislation. It is a popular measure, not only with shop workers, but with the general public. It will ensure that Christmas Day, one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, will remain special. I commend this Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Davies of Coity.)

Photo of Lord Kalms Lord Kalms Conservative

My Lords, may I immediately express my sincere gratitude to noble Lords and new colleagues for the very warm welcome that I have received in, for me, a new environment, and particularly say how grateful I am to the officers and staff for being the epitome of efficiency and kindness?

In the list of priorities for my maiden speech I must first declare a strong personal interest in the Bill. As founder and now president of Dixons, we have several hundred large stores under the Currys and PC World brands which qualify for inclusion in the Bill, as well as several hundred high street stores trading as Dixons and The Link.

I was a front-line warrior in the original long battle for Sunday trading finalised in 1994—a campaign that resulted in a successful compromise solution which has been of important economic benefit to the country, without the social and theological problems predicted at the time. Indeed, Sunday is now the second most important trading day for many retailers, so the measure has clearly been warmly welcomed by the consumer—a "win-win" scenario.

This Bill is from the same family of regulation, albeit only a distant relative. Let me say from the outset that I totally agree with the purpose of the Bill, yet I find it somewhat perplexing. It is arguing a case that does not really exist. It is a sort of pre-emptive piece of legislation. I am no expert on legislation, but feel instinctively uncomfortable at trying to forecast and outguess that which may or may not happen and then try and use that assessment to introduce specific legislation. All the research indicates that there is no likelihood of any meaningful extension of large store Christmas Day trading. On this fact most of the large multiple traders are in agreement. It is not even on their radar screens; for good sensible reasons. Christmas Day trading fails several critical tests.

For the retailer, Christmas Day is likely to be very expensive in terms of extra payments for those who are willing to work in the store, which must also include the necessary infrastructure and back-up staff. Christmas Day would be for genuine volunteers only with no pressure applied. That management style disappeared decades ago; there is absolutely no ambivalence about free choice. Furthermore, for practical reasons, many retailers would find it difficult to convert their stores to sales mode after closing, often late, on Christmas Eve following one of the busiest days of the year.

Sales traditionally start immediately post-Christmas and they are now a critically important trading period, needing a great deal of store preparation—one of the details critical to good modern retailing. Even more relevant and decisive is that UK large-store retailers do not possess any appetite for Christmas Day trading. The decision makers also have the same desire to take the day off and enjoy turkey with their families. Despite some media portrayal of retail bosses with cash register eyes, I have not met one who does not share our family values. Today, large-store Christmas Day trading is negligible. A couple of small distant experiments have taken place, with virtually no indication of a widening franchise.

Against that background, the Bill goes ahead, and although I will not vote against its commendable purpose, I would have preferred first to find out what type of Christmas trading evolved and whom it would attract, and then to evaluate any benefits or abuses, bearing in mind that there are ethnic issues to consider. I accept that that is a hindsight observation; I just prefer facts to theory.

Indeed, that view was supported when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, who is usually most precise, was left to justify the Bill with a wonderful expression of piety. I quote, admittedly selectively, but without changing any meaning:

"Christmas Day remains a special day for most UK citizens, either for religious or family reasons".

I found it difficult to reconcile that user-friendly and genuine expression of a universal sentiment with feeling endangered by an unknown, and unquantifiable, Christmas Day trading threat.

One of the oddities of the Bill, which is a hybrid incorporating many of the regulations of the 1996 Act, is that it still permits shops under 3,000 square feet—or, if you must, 280 square metres—to trade on Christmas Day. I have the delightful image of all the shopkeepers of Walmington-on-Sea, under the leadership of their local bank manager Captain Mainwaring, opening for business and enjoying for a short time a monopoly of trade over the large stores. That is just a modest reflection on a potential inequity in the Bill.

If the danger of Christmas Day trading came from the high street, it would have a far more visual impact on the sanctity of Christmas Day. As we are in pre-emptive mode, it would have been worth considering going the extra step of banning all trading on Christmas Day, retaining only the essential generally agreed exclusions. I query the Bill only as a purist; as a pragmatist, these are not life-threatening issues.

Finally, I would like the opportunity of referring to the employees of the retail industry, as one of the intentions of this Bill is to protect the exploitation of retail employees. That is a worthy purpose but, if I may suggest, the retail industry is no longer a career offered to the unskilled, drawn from the lower end of the social scale, who are unable to argue and protect their own interests. Today, the skills required in many forms of retailing are demanding and growing. Today, it is an attractive industry because it offers good salaries and career prospects, flexible working hours and seeks identifiable skills. Today, we demand serious product knowledge, good computer skills, interpersonal relationship skills and a myriad other skills to get through the entry barrier of the industry. Continuous and progressive training is now the norm.

In my industry, a sales adviser is expected to know the purpose and sequence of thousands of buttons, keyboards and switches fitted to his varied stock. I suspect that most of you, like me, have trouble with your remote controls. My sales advisers need to know how a hundred different remote controls work—and, because the market economy creates severe competition, each remote control has different functions, sequences and features and is usually accompanied by an unintelligible instruction book. They do require high skills. The single purpose of these comments is to emphasise that retailing is a major industry, a major contributor to the economy and is staffed by skilled and ambitious people who provide an excellent service to their customers. Their contribution to the economy is not always sufficiently recognised.

I have enjoyed talking about the Christmas Day (Trading) Bill because any mention of Christmas evokes happy thoughts off goodwill and fellowship. I admit that, at the back of my mind, I hope some of that sentiment might creep into your attitude towards my first intrusion into your Lordships' deliberations.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, one of the nice things about membership of this House is that from time to time the privilege falls on us to be able to welcome and congratulate a new Member on a maiden speech. I genuinely congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Kalms, on his speech and the way in which he made it.

That is not really necessary, because the noble Lord's career speaks for itself, but we should remember the important contribution that he has made to British life. There are few of us, I suspect, who have not taken advantage of the trading opportunities which he provides, together with his staff across the country, and we should like to thank and congratulate him on that. But he has also used his own professional and business success as a background for making a very important contribution to British life, particularly in the relationship between industry and education. I refer, too, to his contribution as chairman of a National Health Service trust. Those are just examples of what he has contributed.

When one is welcoming a new colleague in this Chamber, it is important to reflect on the nature of the Chamber. It seems to me that there is absolutely no point in having a second Chamber unless it is full of honest speaking, honest criticism, honest and direct calls for accountability and a forthright use of experience relevant to the issues before us. I believe that we have had indications in this maiden speech that we shall hear that kind of contribution from the noble Lord. Welcome! I hope that the noble Lord will be extremely happy among us, and I hope that we shall hear from him frequently.

I am glad to have this opportunity of supporting my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity in his Bill. He said, modestly, that it is a little Bill that is correcting an anomaly, but actually it has a much greater significance than simply the provisions that it contains within its text. My noble friend, too, represents a very real and important tradition in British political and social life. He has given his professional life to working for and looking to the interests of shopworkers throughout the country, who are frequently—although, I am sure, not in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Kalms—among the more exploited members of our community. We should be grateful to my noble friend for that, and for the dignity and self-respect which he has enabled shopworkers to gain in attaining the rights that should be theirs.

My noble friend will forgive me if I mention another important tradition that he brings to this House, which is very deep to the origins of those of us who sit on this side of the House. The trade unions have played a crucial part in the formation, the integrity and the meaning of our movement—and that remains true. But also non-conformism, not least in the Welsh valleys, has played a tremendously important part. Of course, my noble friend brings both those traditions together, which it is good to have on this side of the House. When I was a Member of the other place, I used sometimes to reflect that if one was not a Methodist lay preacher one was an outsider. It is a very important tradition, and we should welcome it.

Why do I say that my noble friend's Bill has a significance beyond simply the provisions in its text? I am one of those who believes in a mixed economy; I believe that we need a thriving private sector, and I have great respect for the better retailers, for what they do for our society, and for all who participate in that activity. But I believe that life is about more than the market, and when I say that I believe in the mixed economy, inherent in that mixed economy is the concept that life is about more than economic activity. In many ways, we must judge economic activity not simply by the profitability and the economic contribution that it makes to our national strength, although that is crucial, but by what it enables us to do qualitatively with our society.

One anxiety that I sometimes have is that in the drive for the indispensable vigour and rigour of the market, we sometimes lose sight of the pace, rhythm and romance which should be part of a decent civilised society—the magic, let us not be ashamed to say, which should be part of human existence.

My noble friend made an important point. He drew attention to the indirect consequences of Christmas trading: more traffic on the roads and more police, ambulances and fire services to be available. That is a very important point. But there is something else that is a bit sad. When I think of the magic of my youth—in some ways enhanced by the difficult circumstances of the Second World War, which meant that all us youngsters were very actively looking for a bit of romance—and contrast it with what young people now face with, for example, all the television advertising about what will happen on Christmas Day, I begin to think that we are moving into an age where there is a bland, unrhythmic sameness about our existence. We are losing the contrasts, the magic and the concept that there are different values that matter and that there are different dimensions to our lives. For that reason alone, if no other, what is being proposed in the Bill is very important. It is trying to preserve some of the rhythm, contrast, magic and romance that is terribly important and not only for the young: I say unashamedly that I still enjoy that dimension of life. So, in that context, I congratulate my noble friend on bringing the Bill forward.

I hope I shall be forgiven for giving one anecdotal example of something that can happen that improves the quality of life beyond all expectation. I am fortunate to have my home in a very beautiful and remote valley in north-west Cumbria. There are certain hazards of having a home in a rural area like that. One of them is the absence of absolute certainty about power supplies, particularly in stormy and wild weather. A few Christmases ago, the power in our valley went. I think that it was on Christmas Eve. People were totally without power over Christmas and Boxing Day. What was remarkable was that people were coming together afterwards and saying that they had had the best Christmas they had had for years because they had rediscovered family. They had been thrown together and they had rediscovered the magic. They could not have television and they had a completely different experience in that situation.

That made a powerful impression on me and brought home the point that I am making. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a culture that has contrasts and rhythm, romance and magic. This modest little Bill is about all that. I congratulate my noble friend and hope he will get unanimous support.

Photo of Baroness Wall of New Barnet Baroness Wall of New Barnet Labour

My Lords, I hope that I can be as romantic and imaginative as the noble Lord has suggested in making my maiden speech. I would first like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their kindness and support since I entered this House four weeks ago. I also express my gratitude to the staff, who have been professional to the extreme. They are efficient and are kindness itself to a new girl.

When my appointment was announced on 1 May this year, I felt so proud and privileged to receive such an honour that I could not wait to ring my family to tell them the exciting news. When I spoke to my youngest grandson, Joshua, I explained that I was to become a Baroness and a Member of the House of Lords. There was a pause and then the reply came, "Grandma, what's the House of Lords?". Trust a child to bring one down to earth.

As many noble Lords are aware, I have the honour of joining this House from the trade union movement, namely from Amicus and its predecessors. I take immense pleasure in following in the footsteps of current noted Members of this House, including my noble friends Lord Hoyle, Lady Turner and Lady Gibson. It is more than 30 years since I became active in ASTMS and little did I realise then that I would one day be so privileged as to join this House. I hope that I will be able to contribute in some way to its immense knowledge base.

In his maiden speech a week or so ago, my noble friend Lord Truscott mentioned the gang of five Labour MEPs who are now in this House. I crave your Lordships' indulgence to introduce my own gang of four: the four Margarets. In 2000, at the dawn of the new millennium, a notable coincidence occurred in the Labour Party: the general secretary, chair, vice-chair and treasurer were all women. This was unique in the history of the Labour Party, but it was more notable and remarkable that they were all named Margaret. I have had the pleasure and joy of working with these strong and able women for the last decade and I am happy to note that this working relationship is likely to continue. In the past month, three of the four Margarets—my noble friends Lady Prosser, Lady McDonagh and I—have been introduced to this House. We hope that the fourth Margaret, Maggie Jones, will join the other place in the not too distant future.

I now turn to the issue in hand. My trade union, Amicus, has been at the forefront of campaigns on the issue of the work life balance for more than 10 years, and therefore this is an issue close to my heart. I am pleased to discuss it with noble Lords, but not, the House will be pleased to hear, at too much length. As a trade unionist, a socialist and a working mother, I can only commend the Bill that is before the House this afternoon.

At its heart, the Bill is about families. What day is more important to the majority of families in this country than Christmas Day? Regardless of religious belief, we must all recognise that Christmas is a day for families to escape the stresses and worries of modern life, and we must remember that that applies to everyone, including retail workers and shop staff. Indeed, the shopping culture that has built up around Christmas means that, more than most, retail workers deserve at least one special day to spend with their children, parents and family. As a working mother, I was fortunate that I never had that specific pressure. I always ensured that when my son Christopher was growing up we had a complete family Christmas. Why should that vital family experience not be had by everyone?

I have recent personal experience of the effects of Christmas Day working. My husband worked in the chemical industry and always worked on Christmas Day. Eddie would work until 7.30 in the evening, before he could join us and we could start our Christmas Day. We would be desperately waiting to open our presents.

My noble friend Lord Davies of Coity—as he mentioned, an ex-general secretary of USDAW, the union for shop workers—has campaigned long and hard on this subject and with good reason. The Government have a strong record of delivering positive, practical changes for working families, helping them to balance their work and family life by introducing legislation on paid holiday, paid paternity leave and the right to flexible working. But there is still a danger that in a few short years we could see more and more shops opening on Christmas Day, as market pressures on retailers become so intense that they feel obliged to open.

There are already enough people working on Christmas Day by necessity: the people who supply us with power—although they evidently do not work where my noble friend Lord Judd lives—and those who supply us with water or run our hospitals and care homes. We should not add to that list those who work in shops merely for the convenience of having somewhere to pop out to buy that forgotten jar of cranberry sauce to go with the turkey of the noble Lord, Lord Kalms.

As has already been suggested, it must be noted that retailers are also reluctant to enter this marketplace. The House will be aware that previous Private Members' Bills have tried to end the anomaly of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Government research at the time, as the noble Lord said, showed that the vast majority of supermarkets that would be affected by the provisions did not oppose them. The noble Lord, Lord Kalms, also illustrated that.

The consultation showed that 97 per cent of respondents, of whom 15 per cent were major retailers, said that they favoured the introduction of restrictions on Christmas Day trading. Support for this legislation also comes from across the retail sector. Their only concerns linked to the needs of the smaller retailer, the needs of whom I believe are answered admirably by the clauses of this Bill. That is confirmed by the recent DTI regulatory impact assessment on the effects of introducing restrictions on Christmas Day trading.

It is not for government to dictate to people how to live their lives but we should be there to support them in the choices they make. Moreover, we should also recognise that workers should not feel pressured into working at times that they feel may have an adverse effect on their family. I wish this Bill well and look forward to contributing to the very important work of the House.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, it is my privilege on behalf of the whole House to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wall of New Barnet, on her maiden speech. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge about union matters. That includes being the national secretary and head of policy of Amicus, the trade union of manufacturing, technical and skilled persons.

I very much enjoyed the noble Baroness's sense of humour. It was a delight to hear her contribution, particularly on a subject that requires dispassionate analysis. Her background of service and experience based on first-hand knowledge has enriched our debate. She need not worry about her grandchildren asking her about the House of Lords. I still meet many adults who ask me what the House of Lords is and where it is.

I also add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kalms. His contribution in retail trade is invaluable. Whenever I click my remote control for the television I shall certainly think of him. We look forward to many more contributions from the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.

It is not often that we have two maiden speeches on one Bill on a Friday. Even more important is the fact that there is no party political line—at least in my party—which makes our debate even more interesting. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, on bringing the Bill before your Lordships' House.

When my honourable friend, Lembit Öpik, the Member for Montgomeryshire, spoke in the other place, he rightly stated that this is a free vote issue for Liberal Democrats because it is a question of moral judgment. In doing so, I do not question views that may be contrary to mine. In fact, I respect such views. In a healthy democratic society, moral values must often supersede strongly held political beliefs. It is for that reason that I have genuinely enjoyed the contributions of almost all noble Lords in this debate. The Bill enjoyed cross-party support in the other place and also from members of trade unions and the retail trade. Let me also add to that the support of our faith communities.

It would not be out of place if I were to mention that in our diverse society we value the religious events celebrated by our various communities. For example, Diwali, the Indian festival of light, Eid, Islam's most important festival, and Guru Nanak Jayanti, the celebration of the birth of Guru Nanak, are commemorated each year by the significant Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities respectively across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. In the fast-moving world of today, where we are so firmly entrenched in the rigours of our daily routines, such occasions allow people to spend time with the family, to create new relationships and to renew stale ones. These celebrations undoubtedly have a positive effect on society as a whole. I am positive that people greatly appreciate these occasions as moments to engage with others and indeed to transcend racial and religious barriers. Such festivals evidently cut across cultural boundaries; Christmas is probably the most important one. We see little boys and girls from all faiths and backgrounds making Christmas trees, mince pies, Christmas cards, Santa Claus outfits and the like. Moreover, the traditions of all these festivals espouse many virtues, especially generosity, through giving and sharing, which is particularly important in our society—it is becoming increasingly driven by commercial self-interest and monetary gain. We must make sure that we do not dilute the occasion. There are 364 other shopping days in the year and people should not be forced to trade on Christmas Day.

My argument for supporting the Bill is therefore based on two main points. First, Christmas Day should be one day on which the family should get together. It involves more than exchanging gifts and sharing a festive meal together. It is about renewed friendships and relationships with those who are close to us. The prevailing inclination towards economic profit at all costs should be eschewed, at least for one day, in favour of regenerating the community, family and the religious values that Christmas represents. Secondly, we must protect the rights of people in the retail trade, including their right to enjoy the day with their families without pressure from employers to report to work.

I do not have to rehearse the arguments that have already been advanced. I support the Bill. When it becomes an Act of Parliament, my pleasure will far exceed the results of the Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South by-elections.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, I must apologise on behalf of these Benches for the fact that my name was not on the speakers' list. I thought that one of my colleagues would have been here but he has been called away on one of those pastoral emergencies.

I have three comments to make on behalf of the Church of England Community and Public Affairs Unit. I shall be as brief as I can be. My first comment involves the special nature of Christmas Day. Our shared Christian heritage means that a large proportion of British people have special reasons for wanting to uphold the distinctively religious importance of the day in order to celebrate the birth of Christ. That was reflected in the census of 2001, in which most people in England and Wales described themselves as Christian—just over 71 per cent did so. However, as was eloquently alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, we also found that many people of other faiths and those of no faith at all—I do not mean that critically—also wished to make Christmas Day different from other days, recognising the need for everyone to have space and rhythm built into their lives. We need to protect that.

Secondly, the special nature of the day would be undermined by large stores opening. Changes in retail practice alter the nature of the day, particularly for those who work in the retail industry, as we have heard. One way to make it special is to ensure that all those who do not have to work do not need to. If more shops were open, that would have a knock-on effect on transport services, emergency services and other activities, making it more necessary for others to work as well.

Larger stores should be prohibited by law from opening on Christmas Day; that is fundamental. Experience has shown that while the majority of large stores do not wish to open on Christmas Day—particularly in view of their employees, who have worked so hard in the run-up to Christmas—there are a few that break voluntary regulations. Once a few stores start opening, even the stores that do not wish to will be forced to open to keep up their market share. There could be a Gresham's law effect whereby the breaking of any voluntary agreement by some companies will inevitably drive out the good intentions of others. We need to prevent competitive pressures causing widespread opening by large stores.

More generally, we do not consider that there are any good financial or economic reasons for allowing large stores to open on Christmas Day. The costs associated with opening on Christmas Day would far outweigh any potential profits. We agree that Christmas, while being a time of celebration for some, can be particularly difficult for some families, or those without families or friends, and that some might argue that large stores might provide a social benefit. However, we do not believe that shopping alleviates this problem—far from it. As part of the basic Christian principles of helping one's neighbours, we wish to support community responses to those in need such as providing meals, places to meet and other Church activities over the Christmas period, as happens in many of our communities, including Portsmouth.

We are therefore very pleased that the Government intend to recommend legislation to safeguard the special nature of Christmas Day. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford as the then chair of the Board of Social Responsibility of the Church of England, now the Community and Public Affairs Unit, asked a Question on Christmas Day trading in the House in December 1999 and followed this up with a letter to the Prime Minister in May 2001. He stressed the importance of legislation, arguing that a positive stand needed to be taken if we are to give real support to families, particularly those whose members include workers in the retail sector.

I regret that time does not allow me to pay specific tribute to the two fine and wonderful maiden speeches in this debate. I hope that these remarks will not be taken as one of those caricature "end of civilisation as we know it" little numbers. The Christian Churches would be quite capable of celebrating the birth of Christ were December 25 to be like every other day, as was the case, for example, through the fourth century when the festival first began to emerge. But the day has, whether we like it or not—I actually quite like it—gathered other associations and burdens since those times which I am not for a moment decrying but they affect wide sections of our communities who are rightly resisting the pressure to live in an airport culture on this day as well as all others, with all its attendant consequences. This Bill addresses them wisely and thoroughly and I warmly congratulate the noble Lord on bringing it before this House.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kalms on an excellent maiden speech. High street trading is currently a major engine of our whole economy and the noble Lord will bring to our future debates unrivalled knowledge of this topic.

I should also very much like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wall of New Barnet, who also speaks with enormous knowledge and expertise gathered from over 30 years in her trade union. I was most interested to hear about the five women who got the top jobs. I am equally delighted that the noble Baroness has New Barnet in her title because if noble Lords ever look me up in Dod's they will find that my name is a right mouthful—Baroness Miller of Hendon, of Gore in the London Borough of Barnet. I, too, have enormous interest in the right of women to get on in their lives. When another noble Baroness who comes from the same part of London feels exactly the same as I do I am delighted. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her maiden speech.

I approach this debate with a sense of déjà-vu as we had the same debate on an identically named Bill on 7 November 2001, which was also introduced in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. I wonder whether the noble Lord would agree with me that the other debate was also very good. The excellence of all the speeches today has been remarkable. It has been one of the most interesting debates. The tributes that both noble Lords paid to the maiden speakers were among the best that I have ever heard in this House and it was a pleasure to listen to them.

Then, as I do now, I congratulated noble Lords on their excellent contributions to the debate. I congratulate especially the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. His very full, clear exposition of the Bill removes the need for us to go through it section by section and allows us to speak in much more general terms.

Then, as I do now, I pointed out that the Conservative Party was treating this topic as a matter for the individual conscience of all its Members in both Houses. Indeed, I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, tell the House that exactly the same situation applied vis-à-vis his party. Noble Lords will therefore understand that I am speaking in a personal capacity, as did my honourable friend the Member for Canterbury in the other place.

Then, as I do now, I said that I was participating in the debate with some diffidence because noble Lords will know that I am Jewish and that the religious implications of Christmas do not apply to me personally. It is true, of course, that we have our eight-day Festival of Lights that usually coincides with Christmas, and the peculiarly secular aspects of that—parties and the giving of presents—are similar. However, the religious implications of Christmas Day are of great importance to active members of the Christian faith, as, indeed, the right reverend Prelate told the House. It is absolutely right that Parliament should give due consideration to their concerns. This is despite the fact that, regrettably, a very large part, indeed, possibly, it could be said, the majority of the population, although nominally Christian, do not always go to church or participate in its activities. However, for all Christians, practising or not, and, indeed, other members of all the multiplicity of faiths, and those of no faith, the Christmas holiday is something that they all enjoy. In many cases it extends all the way through to 2 January. This seems to be the completion of a full circle because Christmas Day was arbitrarily fixed as 25 December by the Church in 440 AD—that being the date of the winter solstice, which itself was a pagan festival.

However, whatever the origin of the date, Christmas Day itself is now regarded as special as a family day which families want to spend together, and as many people as possible should be able to do so. I was most interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Judd, recall what happened when the power failed in his village and what an excellent Christmas Day that was for everyone.

The opening of stores on Sunday disclosed that there was, indeed, a very wide demand for that facility but I am by no means convinced that people want to go out for serious shopping on Christmas Day. I am not simply talking about the rather idealistic, Dickensian picture of Christmas with families sitting round a fireplace roasting chestnuts, listening to sleigh bells in the snow and so on. Indeed, the current tradition for a large part of the population after lunch, apart from those who fall asleep, is not to join in singing carols and playing charades—wish that it were—but rather to watch reruns of Morecambe and Wise shows on television. I noted that the right reverend Prelate said that watching television did not interfere with Christmas Day for many people.

There has been a rapidly expanding change in the situation of Christmas Day trading since the similar Bill was before Parliament in 2001, and especially since the original Sunday Trading Act was passed in 1994. I talk about the proliferation of small convenience stores open for 24 hours, 365 days a year, that are usually attached to petrol stations. I noted what my noble friend said about the Bill perhaps not going far enough. However, I did not want to tell him that he could table amendments as we want the Bill to get through quickly, as it deserves to do. These small convenience stores are largely in the form of concessions granted to retailers such as Sainsbury's, Tesco, Safeway and Waitrose so that anyone who is absolutely desperate for another pot of cream, a loaf of sliced bread or, more likely, batteries for toys which arrive in a box marked, "batteries not included", can find what they need. Children who receive toys on Christmas Day that do not work without batteries are very upset indeed.

In 1999, we saw the first large chains with bigger stores, such as Sainsbury's and Budgens, opening on Christmas Day. Inevitably, other chains may in the end feel constrained to follow suit, in the interest of defending that all-important retail icon, the market share. The honourable Member for Durham North, who introduced the Bill in the other place, has said:

"The position of most major retailers is that they do not want to open on Christmas Day, unless their competitors do so".

Not only my noble friend Lord Kalms but other noble Lords made the same point.

The promoter of the Bill told the other place that his objective was,

"to stop large-scale trading before it happens".

The lack of enthusiasm for Christmas Day trading among large chains is illustrated by the fact that, after the failure of the former Bill, the Government went out to public consultation, as many noble Lords have mentioned. Some 97 per cent of respondents, of whom 15 per cent were major retailers, favoured the introduction of restrictions on Christmas Day trading.

I have been very impressed by the fact that most supporters of the 1994 Act have said that it was an error to omit Christmas Day from its operation when that day does not occur on a Sunday. Paragraph 2(4) of Schedule 1 to the 1994 Act excluded Easter Day, which is of course always a Sunday, and Christmas Day only when it is a Sunday. It is illogical for Christmas Day, when it occurs on Monday to Saturday, not to have the same exclusion for the same reason as Easter Day.

This Private Member's Bill received widespread support in the other place, including from the Government. I hope that there will be consistency with what happened when a similar measure was introduced in your Lordships' House in 2001, and that the Bill now has a very easy passage, which it certainly deserves.

Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords on two excellent maiden speeches, those of the noble Lord, Lord Kalms, a truly great retailer, and my noble friend Lady Wall. Her published biography has one wonderful line, which states that she has always been involved in the management of change as a woman in traditionally male-dominated industries. I shall watch with interest how she exercises that magic in your Lordships' House. I give a great welcome to both of them.

As the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, indicated, the Bill is as desirable as it is simple. Indeed, its desirability is reflected by the support and enthusiasm that it received in the other place, irrespective of party or ideological differences. Its simplicity lies not only in its relative shortness, but in its principal aim, which is to prohibit large shops—those measuring more than 3,000 square feet—from opening on Christmas Day, so that the special nature of the day is in some measure preserved. That definition is the same as that used in the Sunday Trading Act 1994, and noble Lords may be interested to know that the floor area of this Chamber is more or less the size of a large shop as defined in the Bill.

Christmas Day marks the highlight of what is otherwise a busy and chaotic period—not only for shoppers, but particularly for employees of large stores. It is their job to satisfy our increasingly insatiable demand to shop, encapsulated in that iconic statement, "I shop, therefore I am". A break on Christmas Day, which is what so many employees in large shops currently enjoy, provides the opportunity not only to pause for breath, but to spend time with family and friends before returning to work for the start of the busy sales period that often begins on Boxing Day.

As we have heard, the Government carried out a public consultation in the summer of 2003 on the proposals to keep large shops closed on Christmas Day. Well over 90 per cent of the responses received were supportive of the measures. Some critics of the Bill have suggested that singling out Christmas Day for special protection in our multicultural society is inappropriate. During the consultation, members of other faiths raised no objections. Indeed, Christmas Day is seen as a special occasion by many who would not consider themselves of the Christian faith. I suggest—it would seem to be confirmed by the consultation that the Government conducted—that, irrespective of the diversity of society, we all agree that Christmas is good for children, whatever community they come from, as well as bridging the generation gap between parents and children.

Not only do a considerable number of people work in large stores—of which many, it is important to say, are parents—but there are those whose times of work depend on those large stores, such as transporters and those who work in waste disposal. Were the Bill to become law, it is likely that a prohibition on opening would indirectly protect those workers, therefore further protecting that one special day of the year for those beyond the Bill's scope.

The 1994 Act prohibits large shops from opening on Christmas Day when that day falls on a Sunday. Despite the desire to apply that to all Christmas Days, the limited scope of the Act—that is, limited to Sunday trading—precluded that possibility. The Bill seeks to remedy that inconsistency by applying the restriction to all Christmas Days. The enforcement of the prohibition will be carried out by local authority inspectors at the unitary and district level. Like the 1994 Act, the Bill applies only to England and Wales. I understand that a consultation on Christmas Day trading will shortly begin in Scotland. The Scottish Executive will be considering the position in the light of the consultation responses.

As for the Sunday Trading Act, there are a number of exemptions proposed in this Bill. Among those are farm shops, off-licences, pharmacies, and shops at petrol filling stations and motorway service stations. It could be argued that some of those shops are considered to fulfil an essential public need, although it should be noted that discussion in the other place led to the conclusion that the list was fairly arbitrary. However, for the purposes of consistency and to avoid confusion among enforcement bodies, the exemptions are taken from the 1994 Act and apply to the Bill.

In the other place, most of the amendments tabled in fact related to that list of exemptions—not with a view to removing what is already there, but rather in adding to it. In particular, there was a debate about the coverage of the pharmacy exemption, which presently covers registered pharmacies that are not open for the retail sale of any goods other than medicinal products and medical and surgical appliances. The amendment tabled was intended to allow large stores, which sell a wider range than simply medicinal products, to also be exempt. We have considered that proposal carefully in the interests of ensuring provision of pharmacy services on Christmas Day. Having consulted major retailers in the sector, we are content that the status quo allows such stores to open their pharmacy counter for the essential provision of services, and we do not intend to proceed with an amendment of such a nature in this House.

The other issue to which I would like to turn is the provision in the 1994 Act to enable local authorities to prohibit loading and unloading of large stores before 9 a.m. in designated areas. That is not included in the Bill. In the 1994 Act, that is intended to restrict disturbance to local residents living in the locality of a large store. The issue was debated at very considerable length in the other place, where the Minister made a commitment to make appropriate amendments to extend the power to Christmas Day so long as that did not jeopardise the success of the Bill. We are presently talking to the parties opposite and if the timetable can accommodate, we propose to introduce government amendments in Committee to honour this commitment.

In conclusion, in some minds there is a question of whether this Bill is really necessary, as few large shops open anyway. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kalms. From our consultations with major retailers, it would appear that there is such a need, for despite the majority of large shops expressing their intention not to open on Christmas Day, a significant number confirmed that their existing plans would be reviewed if competitors were to break with tradition.

In the absence of specific intervention, this would seem to be an inevitable outcome and, indeed, this is confirmed by market testing over recent years by large stores such as Woolworth and Sainsbury, which, in certain areas, have opened on Christmas Day. In light of this, I believe that there is good reason to intervene to ensure that Christmas Day does not become just another shopping day—and thus a work day for so many people. By acting now, we are not only preserving a valuable tradition, but also avoiding a regulatory burden on the retail sector by simply enshrining what most currently do on this day.

I believe that this Bill is both timely and necessary to preserve the special nature of Christmas Day and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to the debate, especially the right reverend Prelate who spoke in the gap. More importantly, I want to express my thanks for the widespread and unanimous support that the Bill has received.

Secondly, I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kalms, and my noble friend Lady Wall on their excellent maiden speeches. I have no doubt that the House will benefit very considerably from their future contributions to our deliberations. In that regard, I want to express thanks to my noble friend Lord Judd for his kind and generous words not only to me but also to those who made their maiden speeches

I note the point made by my noble friend the Minister regarding a commitment made by the Government in another place to consider tabling an amendment regarding disturbance made by loading and unloading that is contained in the Sunday Trading Act 1994. I have no objection whatever in principle to such an amendment. However, I am pleased to note that the commitment was qualified by the Government on the basis that such a measure would not frustrate the passage of the Bill and result in it running out of parliamentary time. I think it will do just that and I sincerely hope that no such amendment will be tabled.

In any event, I must inform your Lordships that when I heard of the possibility of such an amendment, I made some inquiries—limited inquiries, I admit. I have been unable to find any case in the past 10 years in which local authorities have been called on to take action in respect of that provision contained in the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Therefore, it seems to me to be somewhat academic. It also seems to me to be quite unnecessary to risk frustrating the passage of this Bill in order to include a measure that is not even operating. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.